Too green to fail: Musk’s marijuana memes are funny, but he may get the last laugh

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Updated Sep 15, 2018
Life in the fast lane… Are Elon’s dreams in California going up in smoke?

Mention baseball, hot dogs and apple pie and a lot of seasoned consumers like myself will automatically think ‘Chevrolet’ owed to a gazillion commercials from the 1970s. That was 40-plus years ago and I still remember. Not bad, GM.

Brand association is obviously important. Let’s try this one: What comes to mind when I say Tesla? For me, I see CEO Elon Musk emerging from a Tesla Semi with smoke pouring out a la Jeff Spicoli, the free-spirited, pot-smoking cut-up from the 1980s film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Sorry, but it’s hard to get that image or the memes out of my head after seeing Musk on YouTube smoking a blunt, a cigar of sorts mixed with tobacco and marijuana. As of tonight, the Joe Rogan Experience video has racked up 9.2 million views and close to 65,000 comments. That’s a lot of publicity for both Musk and Rogan, the popular podcast host who kept Musk talking for over 2 ½ hours Thursday night.

The conversation is interesting and reveals more about Musk who’s had plenty of influence on the EV industry and technology in general. His comments on early seat-belt adoption in the U.S. vis-à-vis a slow regulatory process and how that snail’s pace is not well-suited to the exponential pace of technology—artificial intelligence in particular—are intriguing and conjure up Tesla’s own NTSB investigations. (No, Rogan did not go there.)

Artificial intelligence is an area of concern for Musk. Rogan calls him out for having a fatalistic view of AI.

“It could be terrible, and it could be great. It’s not clear. One thing’s for sure: We will not control it,” he said.

Too bad Musk didn’t control his impulse to smoke pot with Rogan. The smoked-filled moment just leaves more dark clouds hanging over Tesla. There are countless memes of Musk exhaling a drug, that while legal in California, is still illegal in most states and, most importantly, is still against federal law. A CEO of his stature—really any CEO—shouldn’t be openly breaking federal law for millions to see.

The fallout on Friday was not so good. Tesla’s stock value dropped roughly six percent. His chief accountant and head of human resources resigned that day which brings the executive exodus to 13 over the past year. But for Musk, who ten years later still runs his business at the frenetic pace of a start-up, it looks like business as usual.

Media reports of the toke session were mixed. Some, like The New York Times, questioned Musk’s move to smoke marijuana on camera at a time when his company has been taking repeated hits on a variety of fronts: lackluster vehicle production, Autopilot crashes, flammable batteries, shareholder lawsuits, an ongoing exodus of top executives and possible stock manipulation.

Treading softly CBS wrote in its headline, “Tesla shares drop after Elon Musk appears to smoke marijuana.” There were other similar headlines that seemed to suggest that perhaps it wasn’t pot at all that the embattled CEO was smoking. However, after handing Musk the smoking blunt, Rogan clearly tells him that it’s legal to smoke and that “there’s tobacco and marijuana in there. That’s all it is.”

Rogan sounds like some middle-schooler in full-on peer pressure mode here: “That’s all it is.”

Oh no, Rogan. That’s not all it is. There’s a lot more to it than just a little tobacco and pot. It’s a controversial movement that’s now gained even more momentum following this stunt.

And the hypocrisy doesn’t help. Green tech proponents and lobbyists constantly beat the drum about non-attainment emission zones where they say diesel trucks are at the root of increased cancer rates. What? So there’s nothing wrong with Musk, the propped god of zero emissions, smoking a fatty packed with cancer-causing tobacco?

The same guy who says he’s building EVs to benefit the planet and protect our kids seems to have gotten a pass from anti-tobacco groups like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Several media pundits have come to Musk’s defense and have chided fellow reporters for writing about his very public pot use. Some even say Musk didn’t inhale which they contend makes the story moot.

Strange days indeed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of any major CEO that’s ever been taped smoking weed—at least while being fully aware of the fact that the cameras were rolling.

Regarding drinking and drug use, Tesla’s own policy on the matter clearly forbids drug use while working, according to CNBC. So was Musk working? He was clearly representing his companies amid his THC-infused halo while answering Rogan’s questions.

However, Musk did tell The Guardian that his company overlooks positive drug test results for marijuana so long as the THC level present in an employee’s system does not exceed an acceptable threshold, whatever that it is.

There’s no doubt that among the green tech crowd, there are heavy supporters of the pro-marijuana movement. But there are also others interested in the growing field of alt fuel who think the drug does more harm than good and do not favor its legalization especially in a climate where drinking and illicit as well as legal drugs remain a constant concern. Even Musk admitted during his interview with Rogan that pot was anti-productive and like “drinking a cup of coffee in reverse.” So why court more criticism and risk at a time when the company needs more support?

Yes, Musk continues to worry, rattle, annoy, vex, repel, intrigue and attract investors and consumers alike. He’s fully aware of his runaway bull approach to PR and obviously doesn’t care enough to take corrective action. He’s an admitted socialist who has the backing of quasi-socialist California, a state with the fifth largest economy in the world led by a governor who has stated that he wants to do away with the internal combustion engine and turn to EVs and hydrogen fuel cells instead.

EV godfather Bob Lutz, retired vice chairman from GM, criticized Tesla late last year over its financial woes. He said in November at the rate they were hemorrhaging cash they were destined for failure before 2019. But now I’m not so sure. Lutz’ mistake? His notion presupposes a capitalist model that gives a hoot. Tesla has been operating like a non-profit government agency, which despite it’s ongoing woes, keeps the cash coming in because its heavily touted mission of saving the planet appears to be making it too green to fail.